Reformation Lutheran Church in the historic Earlwood Neighborhood has taken a great leap of faith and is now the only Lutheran Church in South Carolina that is a reconciling parish.
Reformation Lutheran Church is known as the church that peals out a welcome on the hour in the Earlewood community.
Now the congregation of the bells is seeking to cast a wider net by welcoming gays and lesbians as a Reconciling in Christ congregation.
“So many faithful people are essentially told in so many ways your church doesn’t want you,” said the Rev. Bill Eiwen, Reformation’s pastor. “The love of God is truly something that we have to share, and I don’t think we get to pick and choose.”
The decision to be more intentional in their outreach was made over several months and after lengthy Bible study and conversations among members and their pastor, along with other Lutheran leaders.
Surprisingly, it came without the overt turmoil that has rocked other Protestant congregations grappling with issues of homosexuality and faith.
“It is not something that is terribly divisive for us,” said Henry Fulmer, the church’s organist and choirmaster.
He said the inclination to be more open to what has become known as the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community comes naturally to a congregation that has evolved as the surrounding Earlewood community has undergone transformation.
Once boasting 1,300 members, the red-brick church at the corner of Union Street and River Drive lost parishioners over the decades to expanding suburban congregations.
Earlewood itself suffered economic decline until an influx of urban pioneers, including many gays and lesbians, flowed in to snap up the arts-and-crafts cottages and other architectural gems that had fallen into disrepair.
But the 150-member congregation, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, discovered that many of their homosexual neighbors were wary of the church.
“We had more and more wonderful friends in the neighborhoods who were gay or lesbian, and we more and more began to understand they were shy of any church because so many of them had had a bad experience,” said church member Julia Prater.The Reconciling in Christ program was started in 1984 by Lutherans Concerned/North America to recognize Lutheran congregations that welcome gays and lesbians. Since then, the nonprofit has expanded its reach to include people of all sexual orientations and identities, including the transgendered.
“You do analyze what is it to be a Christian, and ask, ‘Are you as welcoming as Christ was?’ Phil Soucy, communications director for Lutherans Concerned/North America, said this week.
While acknowledging that the ELCA has worked to welcome gays, Soucy said his organization would like to remove the “caveats” that prevent gay marriage and ordination of practicing homosexual pastors.
Reformation is the only South Carolina congregation associated with the Reconciling in Christ ministry, although Gethsemane Lutheran Church off Two Notch Road has done so in the past.
Reformation’s members are going door-to-door to spread the word that they are “an old church doing new ministry.”
Part of Reformation’s effort is aimed at erasing misconceptions about homosexuality, including whether homosexuals are created or choose that lifestyle, Dot Jeffcoat said.
“If you are created this way, and God says what God created is good ... the story ends,” she said.
Jeffcoat believes the Lutheran church should bless gay unions, noting “we bless animals, we bless bells, we bless paraments. Why can’t we bless people?”
But gay marriage and the ordination of gay pastors and bishops are issues that still divide people of faith. ...
The ECLA continues to wrestle with the issue of gay unions and pastors as the church formulates its social statement on human sexuality, a paper that will serve as a teaching document for Lutherans.
“There are strong opinions on either side,” said Bishop Herman Yoos, leader of the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA.
But he said he has been impressed with Reformation’s discernment on a difficult issue, which emerged out of the church’s call to “Journey Together Faithfully.”
“I think there has been good leadership in this congregation of asking missional questions — ‘Why are we here? Who is missing here?’” Yoos said. “We, as a church, are called to minister to all people, and here is a church that has taken a bold step.”
Yoos said his role is to “walk with people” as they seek faithful answers to questions of human sexuality.
This isn't the first Church in Columbia that has considered becoming a reconciling parish. Last year Washington Street United Methodist Church was considering becoming a reconciling parish but the initiative failed in part because of concerns of divisions that would arise in the congregation -despite the growing numbers of LGBT church-goers in the membership, and in due consideration for pastor who wasn't quite there yet with as many in his congregation. Shando Presbyterian has a group within their congregation that is reaching out to the LGBT community.
Regionally Myers Park Baptist Church was booted out of the Southern Baptist Convention last year for taking the bold step of affirming gays. The local Episcopal Church hasn't seen the division prevelant in the national organization but the Upper Diocese of South Carolina Cathedraled in Columbia is more progressive than the diocese of South Carolina headquartered in Charleston.
Services at Reformation on Sundays are at 10:30 (with Communion) and on every fourth Sunday there is Taize Song and Prayer beginning at 6pm.Sphere: Related Content